Tag Archives: wine

Health and Alcohol Intake (Men, Women, Wine)

A lon­git­ud­in­al study of almost 20,000 U.S. women is show­ing signs that mod­er­ate alco­hol con­sump­tion (“one or two alco­hol bever­ages a day”) can lower the risk for obesity and inhib­it weight gain:

Over the course of the study, 41 per­cent of the women became over­weight or obese. Although alco­hol is packed with cal­or­ies (about 150 in a six-ounce glass of wine), the non­drink­ers in the study actu­ally gained more weight over time: nine pounds, on aver­age, com­pared with an aver­age gain of about three pounds among reg­u­lar mod­er­ate drink­ers. The risk of becom­ing over­weight was almost 30 per­cent lower for women who con­sumed one or two alco­hol bever­ages a day, com­pared with non­drink­ers. […]

The link between con­sump­tion of red wine and less weight gain was par­tic­u­larly pro­nounced. […] Some stud­ies have sug­ges­ted that res­veratrol, a com­pound present in grapes and red wine, appears to inhib­it the devel­op­ment of fat cells and to have oth­er anti­obesity prop­er­ties.

The art­icle also notes that while mod­er­ate alco­hol con­sump­tion has been asso­ci­ated with “bet­ter heart health”, it has also been asso­ci­ated with an increase in breast can­cer risk.

None of this is good news for men:

Stud­ies sug­gest that drink­ing alco­hol has dif­fer­ent effects on eat­ing habits among men and women. Men typ­ic­ally add alco­hol to their daily cal­or­ic intake, where­as women are more likely to sub­sti­tute alco­hol for food. […]

In addi­tion, there may be dif­fer­ences in how men and women meta­bol­ize alco­hol. Meta­bol­ic stud­ies show that after men drink alco­hol, they exper­i­ence little if any meta­bol­ic change. But alco­hol appears to slightly speed up a woman’s meta­bol­ism.

As before: this is still cor­rel­at­ory, but inter­est­ing non­ethe­less.

More Psychology of Wine

Most psy­cho­logy stud­ies focus­ing on my good friend, wine, rely on apply­ing the sci­entif­ic meth­od to the tast­ing of dif­fer­ent wines, and this is done in one, rel­at­ively simple way: blind tast­ing.

Fin­ance blog­ger at Reu­ters, Felix Sal­mon, isn’t a fan of blind tast­ing, and after read­ing his emin­ently-quot­able piece on the sub­ject I tend to agree. The prob­lem, accord­ing to Sal­mon? We know that wine has a lot to do with con­text and, in tast­ing wine, objectiv­ity is over­val­ued.

This from Bob Mill­man:

It should be obvi­ous to any think­ing per­son that blind tast­ings neces­sar­ily favor–on a group vote basis–wines which offer imme­di­ate pleas­ure and grat­i­fic­a­tion. Left to their undir­ec­ted devices, the senses will almost always grav­it­ate to the obvi­ous and miss the subtle

and this from Sal­mon:

If you know exactly what it is that you’re tast­ing — a young first-growth wine, for example — then you can taste it in that light. Sim­il­arly, if you know that you’re look­ing at an Ad Rein­hardt paint­ing, you’ll be will­ing to spend a few minutes with it so that you can appre­ci­ate its sub­tleties. If you didn’t know it was a Rein­hardt, then you’d prob­ably just read it as a black mono­chrome and move on.

In that art­icle it is noted that pro­fes­sion­al wine taster Robert Park­er does not taste wine blind because of these issues, and in a later art­icle Sal­mon dis­cusses how at one event, when Park­er was per­suaded to taste blind a selec­tion of wines he had pre­vi­ously rated, he scored a once-reviled Bor­deaux as his favour­ite of the even­ing. The fol­low­ing quote from the piece looks at the futil­ity of (inher­ently sub­ject­ive) wine rat­ings:

Wine is not a fun­gible com­mod­ity, where one bottle is always the same as the next — quite the oppos­ite. But the fact that wine changes, from bottle to bottle and from month to month, rather defeats the pur­pose of [rank­ings and] magazines such as Wine Spec­tat­or.

The Front­al Cor­tex con­tin­ues by say­ing that “our sen­sa­tions require inter­pret­a­tion” and that “we parse their sug­ges­tions based upon whatever oth­er know­ledge we can sum­mon to the sur­face”.

This point was brought home when, in 2004, Gour­met looked at the grow­ing craze of Riedel wine glasses not­ing that what recept­acle is used to drink wine from really does have a massive influ­ence on how we per­ceive its taste and smell. This is mainly because,

Riedel and oth­er high-end glasses can make wine taste bet­ter. Because they’re pretty. Because they’re del­ic­ate. Because they’re expens­ive. Because you expect them to make the wine taste bet­ter.

Research­ers are now start­ing to look at this dir­ectly by run­ning exper­i­ments on how the haptic qual­it­ies (feel) of a drink­ing ves­sel affects our per­cep­tion of its con­tents.

Those who like to touch [high autotelics] are least influ­enced by touch in taste eval­u­ations. Indeed, in a taste test of the same min­er­al water from both a flimsy and a firm cup, it was low autotelics [those who don’t like to touch] who gave the most neg­at­ive eval­u­ations of the taste of the water in the flimsy cup.

The res­ults were sim­il­ar when par­ti­cipants were just told about the con­tain­ers in a writ­ten descrip­tion and did not actu­ally feel them: Low autotelics expressed a will­ing­ness to pay more for a firm bottle of water, while high autotelics did not.

So keep all this in mind if you’re a red wine fan when you next order fish: it’s now been shown that low-iron red wines are a per­fect com­ple­ment to some types of fish, so don’t let your pesky sub­con­scious get to the wine first.

As Lawrence Rosen­blum of Sens­ory Super­powers says, “you drink what you think”.

The Psychology of Wine

On Vines and Minds is an excel­lent sum­mary of the his­tory and psy­cho­logy of wine (pdf/html).

Some top­ics of note:

  • Music rad­ic­ally influ­ences our pur­chas­ing habits: clas­sic­al music increases the amount we’re will­ing to spend while char­ac­ter­ist­ic­ally French music sways us toward wine from that region (sim­il­arly for Ger­man music/wine).
  • Col­our affects the brain’s response to odours; as demon­strated when an odour­less red die was mixed with white wine, fool­ing ‘Mas­ters of Wine’ into explain­ing its ‘nose’ using terms reserved for red wines.
  • Describ­ing a wine has a drastic effect on how we later per­ceive that same wine, as shown when non-experts matched experts in identi­fy­ing wines dur­ing blind taste test­s… unless they had to describe the wine between tast­ing ses­sions.
  • Per­ceived price influ­ences the amount of pleas­ure we derive from wine: fMRI scans have shown more ‘real’ physiolo­gic­al pleas­ure when tast­ing a wine labelled as more expens­ive com­pared to oth­ers at lower prices (even though it was the same wine through­out the study).

Anoth­er round-up of wine psychology—albeit a slightly less com­pre­hens­ive one—comes from Freako­nom­ics, where they point out that there is a zero (or even slightly neg­at­ive) cor­rel­a­tion between the per­ceived qual­ity of a wine and its price when non-experts under­go blind taste tests. The art­icle also notes:

  • This cor­rel­a­tion is even stronger with cham­pagne: a study showed a $12 spark­ling wine from Wash­ing­ton was pre­ferred nearly two to one to $150 Dom Perignon when the labels were removed.
  • People dis­like a bever­age if it con­tains a typ­ic­ally offens­ive fla­vour­ing, even though it actu­ally improves the fla­vour: adding a small amount of bal­sam­ic vin­eg­ar to beer will slightly improve its fla­vour, but tell people it’s added before a tast­ing and few will prefer it to an untain­ted ver­sion; inform them after a tast­ing and they’re indif­fer­ent; don’t inform them at all and the major­ity prefer the tain­ted beer.
  • Hardy Roden­stock, one of the most infam­ous wine coun­ter­feit­ers, fooled experts all around the world into pur­chas­ing fake 18th-cen­tury wine he claimed Thomas Jef­fer­son once owned. His ruse was even­tu­ally uncovered by a private invest­ig­a­tion fin­anced by mil­lion­aire Bill Cock (who Roden­stock duped), using a horde of former FBI and MI5 agents. Inter­est­ingly, Roden­stock man­aged to dupe experts by “get­ting [them] shit­faced” (to quote the wine crit­ic Robert Park­er) pri­or to tast­ing the fake wine. (The story of the fraud is a lengthy—but fascinating—read.)

Finally, these two com­ple­ment­ary stud­ies could make for an inter­est­ing busi­ness mod­el (think: wine bar serving cheap yet expens­ive look­ing wine, loud music, food avail­able):

In con­clu­sion you could say that this quote encap­su­lates everything you need to know about wine:

Wine does not live in a vacu­um and it is sampled and savoured in the con­text of our life exper­i­ences.

P.S. Don’t for­get the second cheapest wine syn­drome.

Menu Consultants (or: Tips to Hack Restaurants)

A short piece in Time pro­fil­ing Gregg Rapp: a “menu engin­eer” who optim­ises res­taur­ant menus to max­im­ise profits.

The first step is the design. Rapp recom­mends that menus be laid out in neat columns with unfussy fonts. The way prices are lis­ted is very import­ant. “This is the No. 1 thing that most res­taur­ants get wrong,” he explains. “If all the prices are aligned on the right, then I can look down the list and order the cheapest thing.” It’s bet­ter to have the digits and dol­lar signs dis­creetly tagged on at the end of each food descrip­tion. That way, the cus­tom­er­’s appet­ite for honey-glazed pork will be whetted before he sees its cost.

On a sim­il­ar theme, anoth­er art­icle looks at how using obscure ter­min­o­logy and unusu­al or hard-to-read typefaces can influ­ence diners.

All this talk of influ­ence, food and psy­cho­logy reminds me of the little-known second-cheapest wine syn­drome. The fol­low­ing from a Har­vard Law Record art­icle:

Res­taur­ant own­ers will often price the wine they buy cheapest at whole­sale as the second-cheapest wine on the menu. Why? Because people gen­er­ally don’t order the cheapest wine and thus often turn to the second cheapest. Price that one high­er, and you get a big­ger mar­gin­al profit. Presto—restauranteur as microe­conom­ist!

Higher Price Makes Cheap Wine Taste Better

Obvi­ous stated, still fas­cin­at­ing. Mind Hacks: High­er price makes cheap wine taste bet­ter:

A new brain scan­ning study has sup­por­ted what we’ve sus­pec­ted all along, more expens­ive wine tastes bet­ter partly because we expect it to.


What the volun­teers did­n’t know was that there were only three dif­fer­ent wines, and two of them were tasted twice. One one occa­sion it was described as cost­ing $90 a bottle, on anoth­er as cost­ing $10 a bottle.

The volun­teers rated the ‘more expens­ive’ wine as sig­ni­fic­antly more like­able des­pite being identic­al to the ‘cheap­er’ wine.

I’m sure the same must work when the upper end is more my price range (£15 is an expens­ive bottle of wine for me!).